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China Celebrates Opening Of Summer Olympics


From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, Russia sends troops in to the neighboring country of Georgia. Georgia attacks its breakaway province of South Ossetia. War may be breaking out. More on that in a moment.

BRAND: But first, peace. The 2008 Summer Olympics officially underway today. Thousands of athletes from more than 200 countries marched into the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing today. Chinese President Hu Jintao then mark the moment when the games formally began.

President HU JINTAO (People's Republic of China): (Chinese spoken)

(Soundbite of shouting and fireworks)

BRAND: Ninety thousand people cheered in the stadium. Millions watched in China and around the world. China's image in the world may be changed by these games. At least, that's what organizers and Communist Party officials are hoping. NPR's Howard Berkes is in Beijing. He's here now, and he's just finished watching the Opening Ceremonies. And we won't see them here in the United States until this evening, so give us the highlights. What did you see?

HOWARD BERKES: Well, what we saw was 5,000 years of Chinese history and culture, China's contributions to the world, displayed in a flashy, hi-tech extravaganza, framed by this notion of bringing the world to China for the Olympics, and taking the world to China through the Olympics. The hazy skies here glowed with fireworks throughout the evening.

In fact, the games opened with this dramatic series of fireworks shaped like footprints that started from Tiananmen Square in the center of the city and kind of marched toward the Olympic Stadium here on the northern edge of the city. And that symbolized all of the earlier modern Olympics leading to China.

BRAND: So, really, it sounds like a really spectacular show, but behind the scenes, I mean, these are very politicized Olympics, a lot of political issues, criticism of Chinese human-rights record, you know, its policies in Sudan and Tibet. Any signs of protest tonight?

BERKES: Not that we could tell from here, monitoring the ceremony on a live feed - television feed that we received from the stadium. We didn't see any ribbons or signs or any other expressions of sympathy for Tibet or Darfur, any criticism of China. There is a report of the detention of three American activists who were carrying Tibetan flags. But that happened before they actually got to the stadium. We didn't really notice any signs of protest in the feed that we watched inside the stadium.

BRAND: So, that feed - that feed is controlled by Olympic organizers?

BERKES: That's right. You know, we're not likely to see anything that didn't fit with the script for tonight. Now, I should say that that feed does form the basis of the broadcasting of the Olympics that you'll see in the United States, and it will be part of NBC's coverage later tonight in the United States.

It's provided by what's known as the host broadcaster, or a group that's controlled by the International Olympic Committee. So, in that sense, the images we see are controlled. But I should note that NBC has its own cameras in the stadium, and NBC News has promised to show the Olympics news, sports and all. But there are no television images from the stadium provided by anyone who's completely independent of the Olympic organizations.

BRAND: And let's quickly turn to the games themselves. What are the highlights for this first weekend?

BERKES: Well, I think two things are really exciting. Michael Phelps starts his quest for an - eight Olympic gold medals. That would be a record for any sport in a single Olympics. And the USA basketball team tries to regain the respect that it lost by not doing so well in Athens four years ago. The drama begins right away.

BRAND: OK. NPR's Howard Berkes covering that drama. Other NPR reporters also there in Beijing covering the Olympics. Howard, thank you.

BERKES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.